The Jay Cutler Paradox

4.7 percent of Americans are out of work, and former Chicago Bears Quarterback, Jay Cutler is among them. Cutler has become one of the most polarizing players in recent NFL memory. How is a player that is statistically the best QB in a franchise’s history also regarded as “the worst quarterback in the NFL” by former teammates? By all accounts, Cutler has been a fine NFL QB who has been paid handsomely by his team but cannot crack the Top 25 in jersey sales as a QB. Is this a case of Father Time extending his undefeated streak of forcing athletes from the professional ranks, or is this self-sabotage at the highest level.

Cutler came into the NFL as the 11th pick in the 2006 draft by the Denver Broncos out of academically prestigious Vanderbilt University. In 2005, Cutler’s senior season, he lead the SEC in passing yards, completions, finished 2nd in total touchdowns and was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Not known as a football powerhouse in recent years, Cutler was the highest draft pick from the school since Leonard Coleman in 1984. The QB’s taken ahead of Cutler in the draft were Rose Bowl hero Vince Young (Texas) and former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart (USC), all of whom Cutler has outlasted in the NFL.

From the start, Cutler was viewed as the man to replace the void that Broncos legend John Elway had left after his retirement in 1999. Coach Mike Shanahan finally had a young, promising QB to compliment his famed zone blocking scheme that had produced so many quality running backs. 

It was during a meeting that Shanahan had arranged between Cutler and Elway that the aloofness of Cutler’s personality showed. The meeting was established for Cutler to pick the brain of the Elway who was on his way to the Hall of Fame. Allegedly during the meeting, Cutler refused any sort of conversation with Elway and instead stared at a television set that was in the room. Cutler’s perceived “don’t care” attitude also irritated others on the team such as veteran John Lynch, who now runs the San Francisco 49ers. This might be seen as the beginning of the end of Cutler’s time in Denver.

After an 8-8 2008 season, the legendary Shanahan was fired and replaced by a 32-year-old assistant from the New England Patriots, Josh McDaniels. McDaniels and Cutler were not fond of one another and Cutler saw himself traded to the Chicago Bears for Kyle Orton and picks in the 1st and 3rd rounds of the 2009 draft.

McDaniels would use one of those 1st round picks on the man he saw as an upgrade over Cutler, former University of Florida superstar quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Tim Tebow

Tebow passed for only 2,383 yards during his two seasons with Denver, which did see him lead the Broncos to a playoff victory. McDaniels was fired after less than two full seasons in Denver.

It is undeniable that Cutler has the skills to throw at a high level. During his early career in Denver, he threw for just under 10,000 yards in three seasons with 54 TD’s and a completion percentage of 62.5. 

In 8 seasons in Chicago, his stats were almost 24,000 yards with 154 TD’s and a 61.8% completion percentage. Those stats put him in the Top 10 of active QB’s in Passing TD’s and Total Offense while just outside the Top 10 in Yards (11th), Completions (11th) and Completion Percentage (15th).

No matter how world class of an arm one has, a QB cannot get the ball to his receivers if he lays flat on the ground, below a pile of 300lb defensive linemen. Cutler was sacked 51 times during his time in Denver. When the Broncos drafted a functional Left Tackle, Ryan Clady, Cutler’s stats improved to over 28-yards per game and 25 TD’s along with being named to his first Pro Bowl. After the trade to Chicago, he would be sacked 241 times with 52 of those coming in the 2010 season alone.

During his tenure in Chicago, Cutler has been under three different head coaches as well as six different offensive coordinators. Only one of those coordinators was successful enough to see himself promoted as an NFL head coach. Adam Gase was hired by the Miami Dolphins in 2016. Under Gase, Cutler posted stats of 3,659 and 21 TD’s with only 11 Interceptions. In a 2017 interview, Gase had nothing but praise for Cutler:

“My experience with him was very good,” Gase said. “I don’t get all the hatred towards him. I see a guy that worked hard and did everything he could to help his team win. He sacrificed his body. To me, he was an athletic quarterback that can throw the ball. When you got to third down you could call the worst play possible and he would get the conversion. He made a lot of things that we did look really good.”

Former teammates of Cutler have been less than thrilled about their time playing with him. 

Former teammate Martellus Bennett, along with his brother Michael called Cutler “The worst QB in the league” also saying “I’d be open and he’d throw into double coverage.” Former Denver and Chicago teammate Brandon Marshall claimed to be the only one that tried to hold Cutler accountable:

“There is a culture in the league that you keep everything in-house. But for me last year, I felt like, when we are going on 10 years — nine, 10 years in the league — it’s time to get it. I felt like I was the only one in the organization that had the ‘huevos’ to hold [Cutler] accountable. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to go.”

Body language is an area that pseudo-scouts have criticized Cutler about during his whole career. His nonchalant attitude after throwing interceptions have infuriated fans for years. His perceived aloofness have made doubters question his commitment to football. Criticism of Cutler’s body language became so popular that the world was blessed with the Smoking Cutler meme, an internet meme which showed a disinterested Cutler on the sideline with a photoshopped cigarette hanging from his lip. During the 2011 NFC Championship Game, Cutler injured his MCL and was pulled from the game. The Bears would go on to lose the game and a hurricane of criticism rained on Cutler’s toughness. People could not fathom how an injured player couldn’t rise above the pain and perform at the highest level of football without losing a step.

So if Cutler’s stats have ranked him among the best at his position, is it really his personality that has prevented him from getting more work? He is almost 33, coming off of knee surgery, but teams were lining up for the services of Tony Romo who was recently released by the Dallas Cowboys. Romo has a history of injuries that plagued his career and his minimal playoff success is not much different than Cutler’s.

With Cutler considering retirement, it makes one wonder why he would even want to return to football. Cutler has made over $100 million in his career, he has an attractive celebrity wife whom he has a family with. Would an opportunity to play for the New York Jets really be a determining factor in his decision? Whatever Cutler decides to do, odds are, you are not going to like it, and he doesn’t give a damn.

Sean Plymyer

Author Sean Plymyer

Born and raised in California. Graduated from Long Beach State with a BA in History. I coach high school football in Northern California where I live with my family and three dogs.

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